Inside Edition: Former Player Talks About John Thompson III, the "System" and Talent

Former John Thompson Jr. player "Bashful" weights in on criticism of John Thompson III and his system.

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There has been much consternation about the recent two losses by the Hoyas and after the Cincinnati game some criticism of Coach JTIII emerged on this and other blogs. After my good friend Sleepy Hoya has penned a somewhat facetious article this week, I thought the discussion deserved a more detailed look. The focus of the dyspepsia revolves around the "Georgetown/ Princeton" offense and its effectiveness in the Big East (strategic concerns) and, of course, the tactical considerations of substituting, play calling after time outs and other coaching decisions.

So from a big picture standpoint, I would make three observations:

  1. Overall Career Success - The current season is JTIII's 12th season coaching an NCAA team. He has won 4 league championships, has appeared in post season tournaments 10 of 11 seasons and has won 70% of the games he has coached for GU. This is an elite level of success. By comparison his father won 71.5% of games.
  2. Coaching Style and Success - JTIII has coached this style of offense his entire career. He has won in the Big East with the talents of Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert but his teams have relatively underperformed the last few years because of first round losses in the last three post seasons.
  3. Pre-season vs. the Big East - The last few years the Hoyas have done very well in nonconference play versus the Big East regular season schedule. Does this have to do with the difference in talent between the opponents, the familiarity of the Big East opponents or some other factors.

The overall answer as far as I am concerned is that the jury is still out. It is clear that with tremendous talent and great chemistry this can be a successful style of play as the 2006-2008 teams showed. It is also clear that teams with tremendous talent have not played as well. I always thought that Chris Wright was poor fit for the offense because he was a scorer who leveraged his ability to break people down off the dribble. He also had an historically high levels of turnovers. The offense does best when your point guard is a good ball handler who facilitates movement, spacing and timely penetration (e.g. Jon Wallace). And secondly, the team the last few years was just too small for Big East success.

The current team is well positioned to execute in this offense. Markel Starks is a good ball handler, who is unselfish, can penetrate and can spot up for jumpers. Hollis Thompson is an outstanding spot up shooter who can draw the defense out and open up opportunities inside. Henry Sims is a really good passer both at the top of the key and down low. And the rest of the squad is developing nicely to fit into the system and they seem to have the mindset for success.

So what has gone wrong? Not that much so far. 13-3 and a top 25 ranking are accomplishments. The team is deeper and plays better defense than the teams of the last few years. The team is significantly taller than the last few teams. And the team is young and hopefully will learn from their mistakes. The last four games represented underperformance of the team's abilities and need to studied and corrected. My humble observations:

  1. In all of the last four games the team experienced significant periods of offensive lulls. The last three quarters of the Providence game; the middle 20 minutes of the Marquette game; large portions of the WVU and Cincy games. Most of these seem to come when the team falls back into executing the offense around the perimeter of the three point line. They fall into passing and moving after the pass but never make the move to have the ball penetrate inside. This accomplishes two bad things. It allows the defense to wait on passing lanes and force turnovers or results in bad shots too far from the basket. Against Marquette, they broke this tendency in the second half when Jason Clark came out and consistently drove to the hoop. The next thing you know he's getting to the foul line and things opened up when they adjusted to stop his drives and that opened the floor for Henry to be our point forward and find people cutting. Movement and spacing are keys to this offense but so is penetration.
  2. When the ball comes into the high or low post we often see our cutters crowding the player with the ball. This has been one of our main sources of turnovers. We need to cut with spacing to the hoop. This gives the point forward the option of finding the cutter or seeing if a player has become open on the outside due to adjustments by the defense.
  3. Correct these two tendencies and the turnovers will go down.
  4. The last thing is that the team needs to develop more of a killer instinct. We have teams on the run and then we just go back to "running our sets". Don't do that. Keep penetrating, keep getting to the foul line and keep finding Hollis when he is hot. He doesn't have to be just a spot up three point shooter - he has developed a very nice post up fade away jump shot that is virtually unstoppable when he is covered by anybody 6'6" or smaller. But don't settle for just running the sets.

I think this team will rebound and outperform expectations this year. If they don't the jury may be coming back into the courtroom on the Georgetown/ Princeton offense.

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